Whew! We finally made it safely to Antigua after our last visit from “HELL,” Montserrat. I’m sure that nowadays life is very different from when we were there. However, the wind still blows and the seas still rise. That is just a small part of life on the sea. You do have choices to make during your sailing life. Sometimes, situations occur that you cannot predict or control.
Therefore you should prepare yourself, your boat and your crew for any and all possibilities. This should apply to all trips you make on your boat, especially if you are going offshore. It doesn’t matter how many days you will be at sea. What does matter is what is expected to happen on the water during those days. Yes, I know that I am only addressing short term sailing. When you sail out to sea for days and nights at a time, it is another matter. I touched upon it a bit, but I will address it later on.
Because of its eastern location, Antigua is a hard island to make with the prevailing wind conditions from ENE-E-SE. Antigua was our first choice as a port at this point. If we couldn’t make it, we’d have to sail south to Guadeloupe and then back track north to get to Antigua. Underway, we found we could sail very close hauled and therefore, we were off to this most historic and wonderful island. The wind was not too bad, 18 – 24 knots on the nose. It could have been worse. What was a bit of a problem were the Trade Winds which were up and so was sea state. We had a slight angle on the wind, but we had the biggest seas since we left home a year and half ago. We estimated that the seas were in the area of 10’ to 12’ and breaking. GRENDEL, as always, performed flawlessly. We did however discover a new leak or two, but that was trivial under the circumstances. We just hunkered down and watched in anticipation as Antigua grew ever closer off our bow.
Seven and a half hours and 49.5 NM later, we entered English Harbor which is so situated that its entrance is hidden from view until you are abeam of it and even then you are still not sure. This is why the British chose this harbor for its seaport. The tipoff that you are outside the harbor entrance is a stone cliff along the shore called “The Pillars of Hercules.”
At the time of Antigua’s discovery, England was the only country that was able to maintain its vessels while prowling the Caribbean rather than having to return to homeport for maintenance. Nelson’s Dockyard is still there. It is a living museum made up of the original buildings that were constructed in the late 1700’s, as well as the careening windlass that was used for heeling the square riggers onto their sides so the shipwrights could work on the exposed hull. Also intact was the sail loft used for repairing the sails and riggings. One of the more impressive buildings is the Copper and Lumber Store which was just that. Copper and lumber were stored in these buildings which also housed an inn for seamen. When the seamen brought their ships in to be repaired, they needed a place to stay. Today, it is a most impressive restaurant and hotel furnished with antiques and reproductions of its time. We stayed in the harbor for a few days. We loved Antigua for its history, its living museum, its friendly people, its snug anchorage, its facilities and so much more.
Nelson’ Dockyard is home to the famous Antigua Sailing Week. The event has been held every year since 1967 at the end of April. If you are planning a visit and need land facilities, you may stay at The Copper & Lumber Hotel or the many other hotels or inns on Antigua if you do not or cannot stay aboard your own boat. Many festive celebrations take place during race week. For the wives or ladies in your crew, there are many gift stores and boutiques to peruse. The island offers a number of interesting tours for its many visitors.
Nelson’s Dockyard is a natural and historical port that is known as a hurricane haven for ships and in its early days was guarded by forts. Ships felt safe here. This is where Lord Admiral Nelson found a safe harbor to shelter his fleet. There are several buildings that may be of special interest to seamen. I believe all visitors to this lovely island will discover unique experiences, historical, nautical and culinary to satisfy their individual tastes.
If you are more the outdoor type, Antigua has many beaches. It has been said that Antigua has “one beach for each day of the year!” If that is not your passion, you can go deep sea fishing, or swim off the many beaches, play golf, and on and on. There are several good anchorages where you can anchor while you await checking- in.
St. John’s has been the administrative center of Antigua since the island was colonized in 1632. It became the seat of government in 1981 when the nation achieved independence. It is very cosmopolitan and noted for its shopping malls, boutiques, and jewelry. This is where the cruise ships dock. St. John’s is also the financial and investment center. For those interested in Rum, the Antigua Rum Distillery is open for tours and a tasting table.
Each island has its own concerns. Here, as well as any port, you should always have up to date charts. Our charts are now out of date. Rocks, reefs, or other obstacles may have changed. New anchorages may have been created and so on. If you are unfamiliar with the ports you plan to visit, buy the charts ahead of time and study them when you are underway. Better yet, always have current charts for harbors, anchorages. Always look at and study the harbor entrance before you set off in that direction. Things change over the years. Docks may have been remodeled or torn down. These changes are not unlikely as you go down the island chain.
If you have an out of date cruising guide, you may find yourself in trouble. Marinas change or close up forever. Mooring balls can be new to an area or no longer at that location. Try to find out before hand as much information as you can obtain. We always enjoyed talking to other cruisers and exchanging information. However, we always made our own decisions based on what we read in current guides, what we heard, and what we thought was best for us.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.